Rod Meloni: Like Detroit, Wayne County's money is running out

Rod Meloni discusses Wayne County Jail construction, money it is costing

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®


The new Wayne County Jail is striking in a number of ways.

As you drive into Downtown Detroit from Interstate 75 it is the first thing you see these days. The construction cranes are a conspicuous a sight not only because they cover the skyline but their presence is unusual considering we haven't seen many in Detroit over the past decade. The new jail came with lofty expectations. It was supposed to allow the county to consolidate four jails into one and pay for itself in 10 years.

Read more: Wayne County may look to sell new jail construction site

Perhaps the most striking part is the price tag. The County Commission approved $200 million for the project. But recently the county admitted it is in the process of redesigning the jail because, as with most construction projects of this kind in the government sector, it ran way over budget. No one, least of all Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano, is willing to say by how.

Suffice it to say, inside Wayne County sources tell Local Four it would not be out of the question to see the new jail come in a staggering $100 Million over budget. The bottom line is the county cannot afford it . The county is all but broke -- the County Commission just admonished Prosecutor Kym Worthy for being $10 Million over budget. The Wayne County Sheriff's Office is said to be roughly $40 million dollars over budget. So $100 million is out of the question.

Cullen said Monday it was Ficano's staff that approached him asking him to look at the possibilities of how to cut a deal.
So, what to do? We are not certain whether Ficano cooked up this scheme or if the State of Michigan pushed this on him, but the idea is to sell all the land downtown that holds the courts and jails [36th District, the old and new jail, the juvenile facility and a couple of other parcels] to Dan Gilbert [or someone else with big cash] and move the whole justice system northeast to the now vacant Mound Road Correctional Facility. The State was willing to allow the County and the City of Detroit to use the prison but neither was interested when it closed in 2011.

Now it appears it is the only common sense idea that can extricate the County from this mess. But no one is out of the woods just yet, $100 Million dollars of more could still be at risk. So, this revelation today is nothing short of a bombshell. Remember that Bob Ficano had allowed his former staffers Turkia Awada-Mullen and Azzam Elder to run with the new jail project from the beginning. Instead, it has run out of money and time and they are now gone.

For his part Bob Ficano can only hope he can strike a deal because he has a lot of money to recover to pay off the bonds that started his errant jail project. The wildcard here is whether the FBI, who have been pouring over the County's books and have been taking a very close look at how this jail deal was constructed and executed, will step in first. If not, the Mound Road facility is a prison, not a jail and it too will require a lot of money to convert it into the kind of criminal justice complex being discussed.

Strangely though, this could end up a win/win depending on how much money the county might be able to negotiate for the property. Cullen says this makes a world of sense considering how Detroit could look for the next fifty years. He added, if Rock Ventures does not buy the property he would fully support anyone else helping recreate an even better entertainment district.

In case this story does not reflect the seriousness of this story, it is a major development for the county with a lot of corners, twists and turns. Rest assured we will be following it closely in the months to come.

Strap yourself in; this could be quite a roller coaster ride.

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